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Fashion dominates New York’s innovation economy; in Boston, they have biotech, and in London it’s finance. But, when asked, “What is the Chicago startup community known for?” it is difficult to land on just one thing. This lack of defining characteristic is strongly reflected in the coworking culture, embedded within the tech community, that is rapidly taking over the city. In fact, you can find everything from a real estate or social good incubators to a healthcareveteran tech, and food accelerators, all housed within the same Chicago coworking powerhouse, 1871. These coworking spaces and the tech community echo the diversity of the Chicago economy on a larger scale.
The city of Chicago ranks among the top economies in the world in terms of both size and diversity, with more than 4 million workers generating $500 billion annually. Nationally, Chicago is known to be unique in its diversity of industries contributing to economic growth, with no one industry accounting for more than 24% of employment. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chicago’s highly-educated talent pool that contributes to the diverse economy, of which 76% attain bachelor’s degrees, and 36% master’s - a rate 3x the national average.
The great diversity represented in both industry and talent leads to a distinct lack of identity for the Chicago economy. It is in this very lack of identity that this city finds its greatest strength. It creates an infrastructure of stability, as no one division of the tech sector must bear the full weight ofthe Chicago startup community's growth and success. Breaking labels and defying categorization, Chicago’s “identity crisis” is a key element in understanding the economy, and as a reflection, the tech ecosystem.
Globally, businesses are in agreement that diversity drives innovation. Based on this concept, Chicago is poised, not only to grow, but to thrive as an innovation hub. Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to think so too, promising to double the Windy City’s tech ecosystem in the next decade.
Photo credit: John Tolva via Flickr cc